My dad, who had a black belt in manipulation, was the strategist behind the custody war for my children - on behalf of my soon to be ex-husband. At the heart of this maelstrom, lay my shattered self. I'd discovered that my dad was still molesting, my marriage was over, and neither my parents nor my children's father minded aiming through my kids to get at me. I was in this mess because I'd had the audacity to speak the truth about our incestuous family, and was in the process of removing grandparent rights, in protection of my children.
A headache tapped at my temples, inside out, as I took my coffee and stepped outside. Our backyard was an oasis of beauty on that sunny, warm California morning. The kids were off to school, and I was reading a book that was supposed to help me understand me better. (So said my therapist.) I didn't want to. Who wants to read about incest? But if I was going to protect my kids, I was going to have to toughen up, so I locked eyes on the page and got to it.
Soon I had to get up to get a box of Kleenex. The author gave language to my tumbled emotions. To feelings I couldn't have described. She was adamant - it is never a child's fault. Not my fault? Your reactions were normal given abnormal circumstances. They were? Through shimmering tears, feeling validated for the first time in my life about the way I saw my history, a long dormant emotion stretched in my heart. Hope. I'm not crazy. I'm. Not. Crazy.
I had a lot of work to do to get healthy, and it took time. I still have residual vulnerabilities related to my childhood. But I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that one can rise from victim to victor. Here are a few tips gathered over time:
The inner you that went into hiding, as a child, needs to know the "adult" you is safe. To build trust, treat the wounded "you" the way you would have liked to have been treated when you were little.
Validate you by acknowledging that the sexual abuse you were subjected to (or any abuse) wounded you, clear to the depths of your soul. Your response to being wounded was completely normal under abnormal circumstances.
Be angry -
It's okay to be angry. In fact, it's better than okay. Be enraged at the injustice. You have to get angry before you can get well. Think of your anger as a healthy response. It is.
Mourn your betrayal, mourn what 'might have been,' what your family could have looked like, what a carefree childhood should have felt like. Grieve your loss. People who bury their grief stay stuck in it.
Allow sorrow -
Feel sadness for your inner child's pain. It was so lonely - this feeling that there was something, somehow, wrong with you.
Face forward -
Acknowledge your history - but do not let it define you. Believe you are strong enough. You are - you survived. You are stronger than you think.
I am who I am today because of my history. I didn't choose my mom and dad, I was born to them. I would be a different Laura -- not better, not worse -- just different, had I had another set of parents. What I know is that because I experienced what I did, I understand the heart of another in the way only those who share a history of childhood abuse can. In this I am certain: if I can do it, so can you.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-656-HOPE for the National Sexual Assault Hotline.